April 20, 2017
for Sunday, April 23
Acts 2:14a. 22-32
This Week's Reflection Comes From
Anastasia (Anya) Varanko
Senior, Cornell University
Lutheran Campus Ministry in Ithaca
My name is Anastasia (Anya) Varanko. I grew up in Woodbury, CT, and am a senior at Cornell University studying Biological Engineering. At St. Luke, I have enjoyed serving as Campus Ministry Chair, a member of the Call Committee, and a First Communion and Sunday school teacher.
When my peers learn of my faith, I am frequently asked how I reconcile my beliefs with my scientific interests and career goals when the two concepts seem to be at such conflict. One aspect of this question strongly relates to the story of "Doubting Thomas". As an aspiring researcher and academic, I am taught to approach my work and the findings of others with skepticism. To take something at face value is naïve. I continuously question the reality of my results and analyze the conclusions presented to me. It is difficult to accept anything, even Christian beliefs, as true with so little evidence. This uncertainty is engrained in many parts of life. We all have an inherent distrust of what we do not know or understand. We see it as irrational or unwise to be too believe everything we are told or see. There is a tendency for individuals to create lists of criteria that must be met if we are to be convinced that something is true. If X and Y happen, then I will accept that Z is true.
Similarly, all Christians question their beliefs at one point or another. Faith does not come automatically. It is a choice that we make every day, and on some days, that choice can be challenging. Sometimes, this is because it is difficult to find God and Christ's presence in our world. During times of stress or despair, it isn't always evident how Christ is working in our lives. We search for signs that Christ is present. We pray for concrete, tangible evidence that he is orchestrating good in the world. In this way, we become like Thomas. Upon being told that Jesus has been resurrected, he defines a list of measurable, concrete evidence that he must have if he is to believe. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe". He is aware of the level of strength of his faith, and dictates the terms he needs to be met if it is to become stronger. During a difficult time, he is searching for signs and evidence of Christ's presence, just as we still do today.
Several years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to witness someone's faith strengthen after a period of doubt. While in high school, I was a camp counselor at an ELCA affiliated summer camp. Specifically, I was assigned to work with preteen girls and teach a curriculum about the many ways God appears in our lives. One of my campers arrived at camp just three weeks after she had lost her mother to breast cancer. Despite the grief she was experiencing, she was a lively and engaged camper who continuously searched for new ways to connect with the lessons. At one point during the week, the group decided to create a white crayon mural. By drawing on a large white sheet of paper with white crayon and painting over it with watercolor paints, we could expose the images and designs underneath. I encouraged my campers to draw something that represented who they were, something the other girls may not know about, so that we could become closer as a cabin group. The camper who had just lost her mother drew a large question mark on the paper. She explained that, upon losing her mother so early, she doubted if Christ was truly there for her. The grief overwhelmed her and she broke down in tears, saying that she needed a sign he was present in her life.
Before I could say anything, my other campers took over. They began pointing out various signs of Christ's presence to her. Some girls pointed out the nature around them, emphasizing God's creation. Other campers brought up her family and friends, who were there to support her during times of challenge. Within minutes, my camper was happy and laughing with her friends. She thanked everyone for helping her, excitedly declaring that we had confirmed her beliefs. She had her doubts, but her faith was made strong once she received the evidence for which she was searching.
Christians do not always have perfect, unwavering faith. We search for evidence of Christ's presence in the world. Doing so strengthens our beliefs. Thomas provides us to question our faith, but still remain a devoted disciple to Christ. In this way, Thomas is a role model for anyone who is searching for answers. Through him, we are encouraged to identify our doubts and reconcile with Christ. If we are open and searching, Christ will show us his presence in the world.
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Names will remain of the Prayer List for a month - at which
time it will be taken off unless, or course, there is still a continued need
for our prayers and we’re asked to keep the name on.
*** Pastor Ivy has returned home. If you would like to visit, please call the parsonage first (386-1022) so as not to have a conflict with home care/physical therapy. You may also connect with her by text or email. Thank you all for your prayers; keep them coming for her continued recovery.
***The “Good News Ringers” (handbells, chimes, brass, organ) will perform a concert today at 4:00 pm at First Lutheran Church, 120 Chandler St., Jamestown. They will play favorite tunes from Sunday mornings to Broadway. Free admission.
***The Caring & Sharing Ministry is still gathering items for Lutheran World Relief Personal Care Kits. All of the items for kits are needed at this time. Monetary donations are also requested for buying in bulk and shipping. When we package, each kit needs to contain the following:
• One light-weight bath towel, dark colors (20”x40” to 27”x52”).
• Two bath-size bars (4-5 oz.) of soap, in original wrapping.
• One adult-size toothbrush in original packaging.
• One sturdy comb (no picks or fine-toothed combs), remove packaging.
One metal nail clippers (attached file is optional), remove packaging.
***Women of the ELCA Southwestern Conference 2017 Spring Assembly will be held Saturday, April 29, 2017, 9:00-12:00, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 20 N. Phetteplace St., Falconer. Registration ($3), Breakfast, Business Meeting, Program. All women are invited, RSVP with Stephanie Buccola at 665-4221.
***Healthy Bones Exercise Class meets in the fellowship hall at St. Timothy’s on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:00 am. This session runs through June 14.
***The Southwestern Conference Spring Assembly is scheduled for Sunday, April 30, 3:00pm at First Lutheran, Jamestown. Everyone is welcome to attend.
***Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy will host Dr. Courtney Wigdahl Perry of SUNY-Fredonia on Tuesday, May 2nd at 7:00 pm in St. Timothy’s Fellowship Hall for a public presentation on Chautauqua Lake Algae Blooms.
***Save can tabs from aluminum cans and add them to the collection at the church to be taken to SYNOD assembly in early June.
▪ for our community of faith as we seek to do God’s work in the world.
▪ for those in our congregation and community who suffer silently with illness,
financial burdens, and family obligation.
▪ for victims of violence and their families in all places.
▪ for Ron Simpson, Bob & Audrey Markwart, Pastor Ivy Gauvin, Marilyn See, Gloria Gardner, Grace Wakefield, Al Lamb, Eleanor Burgeson Orman, Arden Johnson, Ralph Prieur, Todd Reel, Helen Cogliano, Joanne Aron, JoLynn Stearns, Scott Stearns, Zachary Frazier, Maj-Britt Traynor, Matt Isaacson, Sandra Kelderhouse andThom Shagla.
▪ People serving in the military and their families, those caught up in violence
and war who have no safe home in which to live.
▪ For all children, that the love of Christ may reach them through all of us who
have resources to love, protect, pray and provide for them.